When a tiny slug and her animal friends discover a beautiful garden full of delicious food, they attempt to fill their bellies using one of their strengths in the sweet picture book,Sylvia Finds a Way. Unfortunately, a vigilant gardener stands ready, and each animal BOUNDS, DARTS, or FLIES away with an empty tummy … until Sylvia comes along.
Confident in her own brand of quiet strength, Sylvia’s way teaches kids that there are different kinds of strength. And that often, the best way to solve a problem is not with physical strength, but with patience and words.
Stephanie Shaw and Fiona Lee’s depiction of this unlikely hero is sure to find fans among yoga and garden enthusiasts. Lee’s expressive art is a perfect complement to Shaw’s simple and satisfying story. The earthy color palette allows Sylvia’s “slime” trail of silvery, shiny gloss to take center stage, keeping even the youngest readers entranced. Throw in some fun yoga poses, and this book makes a delightful, interactive read-aloud.
From School Library Journal: “Shaw’s evocative descriptions of the flora and fauna will engage young readers and the author’s note gives factual information about slugs and their value to the garden’s ecosystem … The balance between boisterous action and meditative zen makes this title a standout among yoga picture books. A fun, frolicking tale, and welcome addition to picture book collections, that sneaks in an etiquette lesson without feeling overly didactic.”
The Torah is called the Tree of Life. Just as a tree is always growing and changing, the Torah’s ideas can help us grow and change, too. Yoga can do the same. Both can help us strengthen ourselves, calm our minds, and learn to appreciate the world around us.
Written by rabbi and certified yoga instructor Mychal Copeland, I Am the Tree of Life encourages us to explore both the world of yoga and the stories of the Bible and find meaning in both.
GoodReadsWithRonna: Congratulations on your great honor, Rabbi!What a pleasure to have you as our guest today.
“How might it feel to stand at Mount Sinai? To dance at the red sea?” are the inviting opening words to your lovely picture book. This gentle and meaningful introduction to yoga through Torah exploration is a wonderful idea for a story. Please share your inspiration with us. Is this a practice you use with children?
Rabbi Mychal Copeland:This book came together organically, doing yoga with children at Jewish summer camps and synagogues. We imagined, together, which stories we could form with our bodies. I loved seeing kids use their imagination and how easily they understood what it means to embody, or become, an animal, object, or character. Those ideas evolved over many years into the poses in the book, alongside poses I brought into my adult Jewish yoga classes based on the weekly Torah readings and holidays.
GRWR:The beautiful blend of the spiritual and physical come together seamlessly in I AM THE TREE OF LIFE. What do you feel your book offers to youngsters especially now when they have been coping with an unprecedented pandemic?
RMC: Parents of young children are striving to bring grounding, healthy practices into their kids’ lives, especially during this pandemic. Yoga teaches adults and children that we can regulate our own breathing, calm ourselves down when necessary, pay attention to what we are feeling, and to be empowered in our bodies. Children have lost their daily opportunities for movement, so I’ve been thrilled to hear that this book has helped them get moving during this time. I hope that has, in turn, connected them to their spiritual selves and to the world around them as they embody a mountain, tree or a fish.
GRWR:I love how there’s a boat pose to signify Noah’s Ark. Did you have trouble finding poses to correlate to the various stories? Or did you select the stories based on existing poses?
RMC: I have been teaching yoga in a Jewish context for many years, and in my practice I connect the poses to the weekly Torah portion or Jewish holiday wherever there is a meaningful link. I have collected so many poses that fit perfectly with our stories. In fact, I had a tough time choosing which ones to drop to make the book the right length for children!
GRWR:Do you have a particular favorite illustration and if so, why?
RMC: The book is based around the image of the tree, both as a metaphor for our Torah and of our bodies. The cover so perfectly brings those images together with a child coming into Tree Pose against the backdrop of a tree so we can see how our feet are like roots, legs like a trunk, and arms like branches. I also love the way he integrated the Torah stories we are about to read into the Tree of Life while we are forming Tree Pose on the opening pages. I also love the Crescent Moon, because Andre so beautifully captured the sweeping feeling of this pose and the story in Genesis.
GRWR:The book is filled with a variety of wonderful Torah stories. Is your hope that, in addition to wanting to try yoga, children reading your book might also become interested in further Jewish study?
RMC:Yes! My hope is that the short glimpses into the Torah stories will pique a child’s curiosity to know the full stories. Perhaps at a Passover seder, they will hear the Exodus narrative and remember that they tried a yoga pose from that formative story. If they feel like that story is theirs because they embodied it, even better. I hear so many young adults say that they don’t feel Jewish enough, that they didn’t learn enough to feel it’s theirs, or that the Jewish community doesn’t accept them as being fully Jewish. My hope is that our upcoming generation of kids feel like they own their own Judaism. It is not someone else’s tradition that they are peering into. It is wholly theirs to live, learn, and create.
GRWR:I love how at the end of the book you address what’s Jewish about yoga. For those reading who do not yet have the book, what’s your answer?
RMC: Yoga emerges from the Hindu philosophical tradition. Jews have a long tradition of being open to learning and incorporating wisdom from other traditions that surround us (medieval liturgy based on Arabic poetry, piyyut, is another great example). But movement also has a long history in Judaism. Our ancient rabbis discussed how to move our bodies during prayer, recognizing that words are not the only way to pray. One medieval Jewish mystic matched Hebrew letters and vowels with head movements. Other kabbalists envisioned different aspects of God as a chart in the shape of a tree, the Tree of Life, and mapped that chart onto the human body. And Hasids used body movements to enhance their prayer.
So yoga is a practice that Jews are borrowing, but spiritual movement is not new to our people.
GRWR: This is such a feel good, calming read. What other Jewish or non-Jewish children’s books have you enjoyed reading for your own writing inspiration?
RMC: Howard Schwartz and Kristina Swarner’s Gathering Sparks (a Sydney Taylor Award winner) has been such an inspiration to me, inviting children to contemplate a complex spiritual, mystical idea in a way that is both relatable and calming. Their book, Before You Were Born, has that same mystical, whimsical quality. I have also been heavily influenced by Rabbi Sandy Sasso’s work (In God’s Name, God’s Paintbrush and so many others), bringing a depth of spiritual conversation to an ecumenical audience.
GRWR:What else would you like to mention about your experience writing the book?
RMC:In early conversations with Apples and Honey Press, we wanted to make sure that the children pictured in the book would represent the diversity of the Jewish community. They brought Brazilian artist, André Ceolin, to the project and I am overjoyed with the illustrations. Portraying children of color in books does not solve the deep-seated issues we face in the Jewish community or our larger American culture. Yet making sure People of Color are represented in Jewish children’s literature is one way we can show kids they are visible in Jewish life, while showing white children that a diversity of racial and ethnic backgrounds is what Jewish looks like. We can offer the next generation an invitation to connect themselves to Jewish stories and other Jews.Collectively, we can make intentional choices about which stories and images are passed on.
INTERVIEW WITH ANDRE CEOLIN:
GRWR:Congratulations on your great honor!What a pleasure to have you as our guest today, André.
On the very first spread of the book readers see the tree of life pose along with the tree itself representing the Torah. Can you speak to some of the wisdom shown on the different branches of the tree, the preview of stories to come, and how you imagined this particular illustration?
André Ceolin: Both Ann Kofsky, from Behrman House, and Rabbi Mychal have given me the guidelines and important insights for that illustration, coming up with the idea of the tree showing the passages in each branch.
The tree is strong and healthy, and each branch of it shows an image which represents a passage from the Torah. For me it shows that the wisdom from each passage lead us to a balanced, steady and healthy life.
GRWR:Can you please tell us how you created the artwork? Was it done digitally? And what made you choose this color palate? How long did it take to complete the illustrations?
AC: On a piece of paper and using a good pencil, I always start with several small sketches, the size of a thumbnail, for each illustration to be done. In doing so, I experiment several approaches, having a general idea of the drawing structure, without being distracted by the details.
After evaluating all the miniature sketches, I shoot some photos of the best ones and then, start to work at the computer in a bigger and more detailed version, which will be sent later to the editors and authors for evaluation .
Once approved, I get started with the final version of the illustration, more elaborate and colorful. This step is made digitally as well.
Regarding the color palates, each drawing has its own one in order to express the feeling and the time period in which the story takes place.
Normally, it takes from 2 to 4 days for each illustration, from the sketches to the final version, depending on its complexity.
GRWR:Do you have a particular favorite illustration and if so, why?
AC:The illustration with Jonah inside the giant fish is my favorite, because it was really fun to illustrate that monster-fish. Besides, the image shows some tension, at the same time that it shows hope.
GRWR: You made all the poses look so easy and fun. Did you have to learn yoga to be able to illustrate this book?
AC:Yes, I had to learn a little bit about Yoga, despite not being able to do many of the poses (maybe one day I will take some Yoga classes). Rabbi, through her feedback helped me a lot to correct and make right each of the poses illustrations, as shown in the book.
GRWR:Who are some of the illustrators who have influenced your art?
AC:There are many artists whose work I admire. Stephen Michael King, Rodney Mathews, Rebecca Dautremer and Edivaldo Barbosa de Souza are some of the artists who inspire me.
GRWR:Is there anything else you’d like to mention about your experience illustrating this book?
AC:Illustrating The Tree of Life was a very rich and enjoyable experience in which, in addition to learning about yoga, I learned about the wisdom of the Torah and Jewish culture.
GOODREADSWITHRONNA THANKS YOU BOTH SO VERY MUCH FOR YOUR THOUGHTFUL REPLIES!
You can find Mychal getting into yoga poses while teaching, writing, reading Torah, and even leading Shabbat services at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco. Mychal is both a Reconstructionist and Reform rabbi, earned a masters and teaching credential from Harvard Divinity School, and is a certified yoga instructor, fusing Jewish spirituality with movement through yoga. She co-edited Struggling in Good Faith: LGBTQI Inclusion from 13 American ReligiousPerspectives (SkyLight Paths, 2016) and I Am the Tree ofLife: My Jewish Yoga Book (Apples & Honey Press, 2020) is her first children’s book. She leads yoga sessions that are steeped in Jewish thought and prayer, melding breath and posture practice with Jewish ideas. Her interests span Jewish magical texts, interfaith dialogue, Jewish issues of inclusion, and teaching Judaism as a spiritual path.
Clickherefor my Facebook page where people can find me and yoga opportunities for their kids.
André Ceolin is a self-taught illustrator from Brazil He started his first attempt at sketching around the age of four when his father brought home some reams of paper from work. It was in that moment that he fell in love with painting and drawing. André initially got a degree in pharmacy at UNIMEP. Though he worked in this field for several years, his artistic passion was too strong to ignore. As a young father, he was surrounded by beautiful children’s books and was always drawn to the spontaneity of the imagery. He then decided to switch gears and studied at School of Visual Arts in NYC, Melies, and Escola Panamericana de Artes to develop a signature look and learned new illustration techniques. He illustrated his first book “Um Dia na Vida de Micaela” de Cauê by Steinberg Milano, published by Editora Roda & Cia in 2009. Ever since, he has illustrated over 20 books by great publishers in Brazil such as Roda & Cia, Saber e Ler, SM, Moderna, FTD, Editora do Brasil, Editora Abril. He loves working with books targeting juvenile readers from the very young age to middle-grade and young adult. When not illustrating, he creates toys and small sculptures for his son. He also enjoys bicycling, playing his guitar, and, singing. Visit his websitehere.
Written by Gina Cascone & Bryony Williams Sheppard
Illustrated by Jennifer Sattler
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99; Ages 4-8)
Breathe in. Breathe out. Every “body” could use a bit of yoga in their lives and what better way to introduce this mind-and-body practice to children than through the eyes of unicorns.Unicorn Yoga, written by mother-daughter writing team Gina Casconeand Bryony Williams Sheppard and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler, presents a Unicorn Yogi guiding two eager students through a ten-pose class.
The white colored, pink-tressed Unicorn Yogi, with the big purple eyes, sits in Easy Pose. She guides the focused blue unicorn, and mischievous pink unicorn who seems to have her own ideas on how the pose should look. “We begin by sitting on our mats, crisscross applesauce. In Easy Pose, we are mindful and centered. Om,” Unicorn Yogi explains. The term crisscross applesauce has been used for years to get children to sit still, but that isn’t always easy for the pink unicorn.
Sattler uses her vivid imagination to bring huge grins and giggles to the young reader in her art. Check out the blue unicorn contemplating how delicious the mouse running by looks, while the others are focused on Cat Pose; or how the pink unicorn lets out a bit of ummm … gas when “her tail is high in the air as energy rushed through her body in Downward-Facing Dog.” This made me laugh because it’s a well known effect of this pose in yoga classes. She sweetly says “excuse me” so all is quickly forgiven.
The authors take the reader to Forward-Fold Pose and explain, “any way you do it, you are strengthening your legs in a Forward-Fold pose.” And any way you do it is right, as the teacher demonstrates with a rounded spine and forehead reaching towards her toes, as blue unicorn does her best to bend forward and our favorite pink unicorn does a pose that looks more like the pose Happy Baby laying on her back. Sattler paints a bite out of the mat in this drawing, so I think our pink unicorn friend was a bit hungry in class as well. Other poses demonstrated include Plank Pose, and Relaxation Pose “where it’s finally time to take our rest” (otherwise known as nap time for our pink unicorn who curls herself up in fetal position).
Sattler writes Breathe in Breathe out on the bottom of each page to remind the reader about the importance of breath before movement in every yoga practice. The backmatter explains how yoga is good for everybody and every body—even unicorns. Cascone and Sheppard introduce two types of breathing exercises that both adults and children can practice to help calm the body and mind. They also explain the importance of “practice, practice, practice and that the most beautiful pose always comes with a smile.”
This new picture book is a great introduction to the practice of yoga and a fun read for the whole family. With yoga and mindfulness being taught more and more in schools across the country, Unicorn Yoga is a wonderful and helpful book to demonstrate some basic poses, while not taking it so seriously as our pink unicorn shows us. As a yoga instructor myself, I found this book to be an easy explanation to this centuries old tradition, and hope it will encourage students to begin their own daily practice. Namaste (the light in me recognizes and honors the light in you).
Author and illustrator Genevieve Santos expresses parental love through words and drawings of yoga (asana) poses for young children, while teaching kids techniques to calm the body and mind in the padded board book, I Yoga You.
“I love you in the morning when you salute the sun,” the mother says to her child as she stands next to the window demonstrating the asana pose known as Sun Salutation. The young girl, still lying in bed, reaches her arms towards the sun alongside her stuffed bear who is doing the same.
Turning the page, we find mothers with sons and fathers with daughters all showing their love for their children. “I love you flying through the sky—fearless, strong, and proud,” says the father with the long, scruffy red beard while holding his red haired daughter and her stuffed pig over his head. Her hands are outstretched like superwoman (Superman/Superwoman pose).
With I Yoga You, youngsters learn how to let out their anger when they experience a bad feeling, but also learn that mom and dad will still always love them. Santos shows the black shadow of a roaring lion, while a mom hugs her angry son teaching the reader about the benefits of Lion’s Breath. Mom’s eyes are closed while holding her screaming child, suggesting she too is practicing deep breathing.
Page after page depicts a new pose with another parent’s message of love. Parents will enjoy reading this book to their children before bedtime or when mindfulness and relaxation are needed. Children will learn at an early age the benefits of these asana poses, while being reminded just how much they are loved and how they can, in turn, can return the love. I Yoga You is also a fun read for preschool and kindergarten teachers looking for an activity to calm their classrooms during the hectic holiday season. And teachers can be reminded that these poses can also be done during their breaks. This recommended 26 page interactive book is durable so it can be read and re-read for Valentine’s Day or all year long. Namaste.
(Abrams Books for Young Readers; $14.99, Ages 3-5)
Fall is an ideal time to feed your body and calm your mind while also introducing yoga poses and nutrition to kids. Joy Bauer’sdebut children’s book, Yummy Yoga: Playful Poses and Tasty Treats, does just that. The New York Times bestselling author and professional nutritionist shares eight easy and accessible yoga poses and eight kid-friendly recipes with readers. Photographer Bonnie Stephens presents lively and adorable photos of kids demonstrating these easy-to-learn yoga poses while fruits and veggies practice the same poses!
“Welcome to Yummy Yoga!” is the title of a note from Bauer to adult readers. As “one of the nation’s leading health authorities,” Bauer explains how healthy foods can be delicious and how practicing yoga poses can be super fun. She encourages children to copy the yoga sculptures made out of tasty food created by Stephens. Parent and child can mix and match ingredients and are reminded that it may take a few tastes before starting to fall in love with a new food. “And now it’s time to stretch your body and your taste buds for a happier, healthier you!”
Bauer inserts messages throughout the book such as “always ask an adult for help, especially if you need to use a knife or the stove!” Each page is designed with a gatefold as in the one showing a young boy in green demonstrating Triangle Pose with the opposite page showing an avocado with a lime head and broccoli body doing the same. With “Lift the flap to stretch your taste buds with a creamy treat,” the green arrow points as parent or child find a recipe with how to make instructions for Broccomole Dip in the center.
Turning the page we find a recipe for Heart-y Artichokes, Green Beans and Leeks along side of Lotus Pose; Warrior II Pose, which “helps stretch out your legs and hips” is demonstrated by corn on the cob, with a twist to the corn on the cob recipe. The book closes with photos of the same diverse group of boys and girls performing yoga poses such as Plank Pose, Downward Facing Dog and Tree Pose with a more extensive explanation of how to properly perform each pose.
Yummy Yoga was a terrific read! As a yoga instructor myself, my spirits are always lifted when I find books that introduce the physical practice of yoga to children in an engaging way. Parents will enjoy practicing the poses alongside their children, and working together in the kitchen to create healthy foods. The ingredients for the scrumptious sounding strawberry and kiwi frozen snack Power Pops are on my shopping list, and that reminds me, it’s time to warm-up my spine with the Power Pops partner cat pose!